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Jailed Bahraini activist in hospital as kingdom's crackdown accelerates

Nabeel Rajab's ilness comes after government speeds up court proceedings to dissolve leading opposition party
Nabeel Rajab and his daughter Malak leave a court after an appeal hearing (AFP)

Leading Bahraini human rights advocate Nabeel Rajab has been transferred to hospital after 15 days in solitary confinement, as the government continues to pressure the opposition movement.

The deterioration in Rajab's condition came as lawyers for Bahrain's main opposition bloc Al-Wefaq withdrew in protest from court proceedings to dissolve the party after the government moved up the process by three months on short notice.

According to his family, Rajab had been rushed to the coronary care unit at the Bahrain Defence Force Hospital on Tuesday with an irregular heartbeat.

"Nabeel never suffered heart problems before," said Sumaya Rajab, Nabeel's wife, in a statement. "My husband is a human rights defender and does not deserve this treatment.”

Rajab was originally arrested on 13 June and was kept in solitary confinement in the East Riffa Police Station, charged with “spreading rumours during wartime” and “insulting a statutory body”.

On 26 June, police transferred him to the West Riffa Police Station, where activists claim he was held under inhumane conditions.

"The government of Bahrain arrested Nabeel Rajab and jeopardised his mental and physical health solely because he expressed his opinions, documented torture in prison and criticised the human cost of the war in Yemen," said Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, director of advocacy, Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy.

"Bahrain has criminalised compassion and human decency.”

'Impossible' to carry out duties

After withdrawing from the court proceedings to shut down Al-Wefaq on Tuesday, the party's lawyers said in a statement that they had found it "impossible" to carry out their legal duty after they were given a very short period to prepare for court.

The administrative court had already suspended all of the party's activities on 14 June, ordering its offices closed and assets frozen in a move that drew concern from the UN and the US.

The bloc was the largest in parliament before its MPs resigned in protest at the crushing of 2011 protests calling for an elected government.

The lawyers said authorities had also refused to allow them access to documents at the bloc's headquarters.

"Therefore, the defence team has withdrawn from the case," they said in the statement.

Initially, the court had not been scheduled to meet on the government's request to dissolve Al-Wefaq until 6 October but brought the session forward to last Thursday at the request of Justice Minister Sheikh Khaled bin Ali Al-Khalifa.

A new session was held on Tuesday instead of 4 September as previously agreed, and the next hearing was set for Monday.

The justice ministry has accused the bloc of providing a haven for "terrorism, radicalisation and violence" and opening the way for "foreign interference" in the kingdom's affairs.

That was an allusion to Iran, which Sunni-ruled Bahrain accuses of fomenting unrest among its Shia majority.

Tiny but strategic Bahrain lies just across the Gulf from Iran and is the home base of the US Fifth Fleet.

Last month, an appeals court more than doubled a four-year prison sentence handed down against Al-Wefaq leader Ali Salman on charges of inciting violence.

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